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I enjoyed the Bridge on the River Kwai a lot more than I initially
remembered doing. Not having seen it for a considerable time a lot of
the plot points and story where lost to me. In a lot of ways it is very
similar to most other war films. A lot of the characters are certainly
the same and are almost interchangeable.
My favourite part of the film is probably the first hour. I really enjoy the coming to terms scenes of the two Conoels. It is well acted and portrayed in a believable and enjoyable way. The interplay between the two characters is well done. Alec Guiness portrays the stuffy Conoel Nicholson perfectly, he is once again superb. I especially enjoy the scene where he and the other officers stare down a machine gun, reflecting the courage and tenacity which was common place in the military of that time.
The two story threads, one attempting to complete the bridge, one to destroy it, are an obvious contrast to each other, yet they work well and it gives the viewer a sense of knowing dread for both sides as the climax approaches. The bridge building part of the story is the superior to the two, I simply prefer the characters and enjoy watching Alec Guinness slowly descend into obsession with completing the bridge.
The character I really dislike is the American. He embodies all the irritating and stereotypical characteristics which are so common amongst cinematic versions of American characters. It is perhaps a redeeming feature of his character that he is killed rather than saving the day, which is what many would expect such a self righteous character to do.
The ending is fun. The obvious question it leaves is, did Nicholson mean to destroy the bridge or not?
Sam Spiegel and David Lean collaborated on the filming of The Bridge On
the River Kwai. Logistically it must have been very difficult to film
this movie and many kudos go the Producer, Director and stars William
Holden, and Alec Guiness. I like William Holden's easy natural
masculine acting and I laughed when on the beach with an enlisted nurse
(Officers and Enlisted are not suppose to fraternize together) the
Nurse asks Holden what she should call him and Holden says with great
Alec Guiness justly won the Oscar and many other acting awards worldwide for his legendary performance.
This is a great war movie about heroism and one has to remember the brave Men of the River Kwai project for the great ordeals they encountered. The ending is powerful.
Bravo to Columbia Pictures, and Messrs. Speigel, Lean, Guiness, and Holden
David Barra Los Angeles
David Lean masterfully crafts this Oscar-winning tale and it is hard to argue with this man's work. Lean's end action sequences are undeniably the best of their time and they still look just as good now. The acting is great especially Guinness in his Oscar-winning role. Everything from the bridge itself to the location filming looks and feels great. A spectacle of storytelling with blockbuster special effects and lots of smart symbolism for the film goers looking for deeper meaning. People might not like the off the wall ending, but there is no denying the talent of David Lean, Alec Guiness, William Holden, and everyone else that helped work on this magnificent production design that still looks amazing to this day.
"The Bridge On The River Kwai" is not your typical war movies. There
are no battle scenes and there's little carnage; hardly any of the
action you're conditioned to expect from a "war" movie. Even for a
movie set in a prison camp there are no mass escape attempts (the one
escape attempt I believe consisted of three prisoners.) This is instead
more of a psychological study of the effects of captivity on soldiers -
maybe even an early hint of what's come to be known as "the Stockholm
Syndrome" - as prisoners begin to identify with and in some ways
sympathize with their captives.
The movie is set in a Japanese prison camp where the prisoners are ordered to work on building a massive railway bridge over the River Kwai. Alec Guinness put on a strong performance as Col. Nicholson - the senior British officer among the prisoners who fights for the respect of the camp commander Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa in another strong performance). The movie for a while offered a pretty good depiction of the harshness of Japanese prison camps, and was interesting in portraying Nicholson as ultimately besting Saito as he first gains the right (guaranteed by the Geneva Convention) for the officers not to be used as manual labourers and then gets the British officers in charge of building the bridge, thus ensuring that his men would be essentially under British command. That was well portrayed, as was the fact that somewhere along the way the lines of loyalty got tested. Nicholson devotes himself to building the bridge, making an even better bridge for the Japanese than the Japanese themselves were going to build - all in the name of keeping up the morale of the British troops and building a monument to the abilities of the British army. But - as was questioned in the movie - at what point does the legitimate duty of POWs (the Geneva Convention allows for enlisted prisoners to be used by their captors for manual labour) become treasonous? The bridge and railway will be used to transport Japanese troops. Did Nicholson have to ensure that it would be so well built? And Saito suffers some of the same psychological challenges, depicted as being in torment after realizing that, while he's going to get his bridge built, he had to do it by giving up control to those who were supposed to be his prisoners. It all builds up to a powerful last scene as Allied commandos try to blow up the bridge and Nicholson tries to save it before realizing what he's doing.
The psychological study is interesting and the acting is good. I thought the movie itself was a bit too long at almost three hours. William Holden's role as an American officer who escapes from the camp and then becomes part of the commando team seeking to destroy the bridge was well played but struck me as rather unnecessary - at least I wasn't sure of the need for him to have been in the camp with Nicholson and then to have him return to blow up the bridge. Some of that seemed to me to add unnecessary filler to the movie, especially the scenes in which Shears is recruited to go back to the jungle as part of the commando team.
It's a good movie and interesting enough - just a little too much extraneous material and therefore a little bit too long. (6/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I believe the purpose of a good war movie is less to preach or invite
to take sides, than to depict war through the devastating effects it
operates on sane conscious minds, by making or avoiding it. It's not a
hazard that the best movies depicted war as a complex state of mind,
exhilarating then alienating.
David Lean's extraordinary merit is to make a film of a war won by the Allies, with no victory at the end, except of cinematic intelligence. Like "Apocalypse Now", "All Quite on the Western Front" or "Das Boot", the best war movies deal more generally with defeats, "Saving Private Ryan" being a relevant counter-example. "The Bridge on the River Kwai" depicts another vision of victory through Colonel Nicholson, the perfect embodiment of the manic attachment to principles.
Colonel Nicholson, (Alec Guinness) leads the troop of British prisoners to the camp of Colonel Saito, (Sessue Hawakaya). The soldiers' entrance, whistling the "Colonel Bogey March" tune is one of the film's most defining moments but interestingly misleading since this is their only 'shining' moment. The rest of the film, we see them idly building the bridge, then more seriously under Nicholson's commandment. We also see them having fun the last night before they leave. This is not supposed to portray the real conditions of Japanese PoW camps, but cinematically, the soldiers are Colonel Nicholson's foil. He's the story's heart, through his psychological conflict with Colonel Saito.
War always reveals dualities, not dual disorders like in psychological thrillers but two visions incarnated by antagonistic characters: Willard vs. Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now", Barnes vs. Elias in "Platoon" and here, Nicholson vs. Saito. Quite a practical conflict, it concerns Saito's decision to make the officers build the bridge for the railway that would link between Bangkok and Saigon. This bridge is Saito's mission, his honor and his life depend on it. As an adept of Bushido, Saito wouldn't let failure humiliate him. The officers shall build the bridge because it's their dishonor, which brought the soldiers to the POW camp. But while Nicholson accepts the defeat and the soldiers' obligation to build the bridge, he refuses to participate to the effort invoking Geneva's conventions. Saito whips Nicholson with the book, starting the psychological battle that would lead to one of the most iconic cinematic climaxes.
Nicholson is so attached to his principles he would rather die in the 'Oven', the 'punishment' box standing to the sun not to obey to Saito's personal vision. This is the point, Nicholson, a man of principles, surrendered because it was a military order. But his respectable posture progressively flirts with insanity when it puts his men's lives at stakes. In a particularly memorable scene after Major Clipton, the doctor, meets Nicholson in the oven, the colonel's stubbornness makes him wonder, under a hellish sun, which of Saito or Nicholson is madder and unconsciously, where this madness will lead to.
To a personal victory for Nicholson, first. Saito, realizing the incompetence of his engineers, accepts Nicholson's conditions and handles this defeat by crying, privately. This is a personal defeat and his childish reaction illustrates how some military decisions, right or wrong, can be driven by personal issues. Saito's defeat is personal; Nicholson's victory is of the British Army, of 'civilization'. And the way Nicholson handles the construction of the bridge illustrates an integrity almost too zealous for his men and for Major Clipton. For Nicholson, it's a matter of keeping his men in shape, and proving the value of his Army for the posterity. Nicholson's project became personal, and his inflexibility automatically pointless.
This rigidity is mocked by another major character of the film, no pun intended, Shears (William Holden) though I must admit, I wasn't too confident with his wisecracking cynicism in the first act, I preferred the wiser 'Shears' during the mission with the Major Warden, blowing up the titular bridge. Shears who pretended to be an officer, is blackmailed in order to accomplish this mission, he's technically a hero for having escaped Saito's PoW but his status of a fraud isn't the best ticket for the Navy Cross. He must come back to the camp; we understand that his odds to survive again will be pretty low.
But I didn't see that ending coming. I said iconic climax, I should have said ironic. More than a war movie, it's all about personal views, and how two opposite sides can co-work to create something. Saito and Nicholson built the bridge with an involvement so personal their complicity is almost romantic in the setting sun scene, where each one contemplates his accomplishment, Saito, who renounced to his dreams for the Army, Nicholson who dedicated his life for it. Ironically, their last collaboration would be to prevent the bridge from exploding.
And in one of the most suspenseful climactic sequences ever, Nicholson, moved by a paternal instinct, tries to save the bridge, causing the death of the allied soldiers. And while the train of Japanese VIP is coming, Nicholson realizes how blinded by his own pride he was in a last flash of realization incarnated by the unforgettable line "What have I done!" His last heroic deed would be to die and fall on the detonator, destroying the bridge, the train, and the last ounces of remaining sanity, provoking the immediate reaction of Clipton : "Madness! Madness!"
These last lines perfectly summarize the absurdity of war driven by alienation. The chaotic ending is like an implacable victory of fate which decided that each side is equally alienated in this waste. The whole film from the script to its superb climax that made the film for me, is quite cynical in its approach, and that's why I can forgive the music for the ending credits, where I had expected a big silence, like a 'No comment' reaction to an unbelievable madness But as Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) said: "There's always the unexpected, isn't there?"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are three kinds of David Lean fans. First, there are people who
think that Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is his greatest work. Second,
there are people who think that The Bridge on the River Kwai is his
greatest work. And of course, there is the third group of people who
believe that Lean's best works are made before Kwai, such as Brief
Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946), and Oliver Twist (1948).
Even though I am a firm admirer of the legendary British filmmaker, I find myself belonging to neither category. But that's because I have not seen enough of his works to make a reasonable claim. However, in the context of the claims by the first two aforementioned groups, I find myself aligning with the stars of the latter.
Could The Bridge on the River Kwai possibly be a more accomplished work than Lawrence of Arabia? In my opinion, I would think so, and from my experience having viewed both films twice, I suggest a strong case for it. In this review, I will stick to the discussion on Kwai, but when necessary, I would use Lawrence as a comparison.
The film that marked the first of five epics that Lean shot in the last three decades of his life, Kwai tells the fictional story of a company of British POWs led by Col. Nicholson (Alex Guinness) who is forced to succumb his power to Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) who orders the completion of a bridge across the Kwai river so that trains carrying war supplies could cross it.
What makes Kwai such a fascinating war film is this: Nicholson, in a bid to boost the morale of his men and ease their suffering, decides to build a top-quality bridge for Saito that would become a symbol of British pride after the war. However, in a parallel story, the Allies' counteract by sending a few trained soldiers in explosives to blow up the bridge in a covert operation no one knows.
Set in WWII Burma, but filmed in picturesque Sri Lanka, Kwai's stunning cinematography captures the tropical landscape in both sweltering heat and pouring rain, highlighting the harsh conditions that plague the camp. Lean's wide, sweeping shots and steady close-ups allow the drama and action to unfold in its "totality", never disorientating the viewer.
Lawrence of Arabia admittedly features more stunning shots (set in a desert no less), but Kwai is the much tighter film. The latter is paced with more urgency and though both films have moments of "going through the motions", it is Kwai that remains to be the more watchable film, and with a more appealing screenplay to boot.
Much of Kwai's watchability also hinges on the Nicholson-Saito relationship. It is an awkward one, but it is interesting to see how it develops. In the film's most understated scene, both characters stroll along the completed bridge. Saito remarks, "Beautiful, isn't it?", referring to the sunset (and maybe, symbolistically, Japan's impending decline). Nicholson replies thinking that Saito is referring to the bridge, and starts expressing how it represents his life's greatest achievement as a soldier. Saito does not correct Nicholson and allows him his quiet moment of triumph.
In a way, this scene is the finest indicator of the growing "comradeship" between the two enemies in the film. Lean's depiction of WWII boils down to these two characters, as human as anyone else in terms of their fallibility, but are made to look invulnerable to that very perceived fallibility.
The final forty-five minutes is an exercise in suspense-building. And its ending is as climactic as it can get. The last line as uttered by one of Nicholson's men, "Madness! Madness! Madness!" chillingly echoes Col. Kurtz's "The horror! The horror! The horror!" in Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979).
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a rousing action-adventure spectacle that is not to be missed. It is also a towering achievement in Lean's career, proving his versatility in film directing. For better or worse, he would never return to directing small, intimate dramas again after catching the "epic film bug".
GRADE: A (www.filmnomenon.blogspot.com) All rights reserved.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is the extremely accurate rendition of the incredible heroics of the brave men in Japanese prison camps that were made to build railroads. Many of these men after surviving battle on ships, ship sinkings, environmental and weather elements, were then subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment of Japanese soldiers. This movie is an accurate portrayal of these conditions with a few exceptions: (1) They did not whistle when entering the camp(although they did march in military formation, even when captured). (2) In the movie, Cdr. Shears tells the story of how he was on the USS Houston at the time she was sunk ,and how he and a Commander was separated from everyone else and drifted to the other side of the island. The commander died and he took his rank in hope of getting better privaleges. In real life, there was a USS Houston that was sunk and there was a Commander Maer that did drift to the other side of the island with a Seaman Elam ,which is consistent with Cdr. Shears story of the Houston sinking. However, both Cdr. Maer and Seaman Elam survived and were captured.(3) Real conditions of the prison camps were far more deplorable than depicted ,as well as the work details.(Men that couldn't walk were put on stretchers and given a hammer to bust up rock etc). (4) There were more American POWS than depicted in the movie, (the British often referred to the Americans as "Rabble"). and (5) They did not blow up the Bridge in the end and Col Nicholson certainly didn't turn on his own people to attempt to keep the bridge from blowing up. Still an awesome movie that is a must see.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is in essence a work of art, even if a highly philosophical one at
that, and so it lacks realism. But Lean never intended it to be
realistic, as Leone never intended The Good..., to be realistic too.
Both films are operas in a sense, like Aida, Nabucco. That should be
clear the moment those POWs march into the camp, whistling. So, let's
forget historical accuracy, as BORK is really a play in which actors
are not human characters but historical forces; or historical
tendencies. And what we'll see here is not a battle of wills but a
developing historical process. At its core BORK is a chronicle of the
unfolding war, which even includes its outcome, the Japanese defeat and
the sunset of the British Empire. Everything here is shown as an
allegory--as Saito inviting his prisoner to British food for ex., or
using an American calendar to measure progress!
What Lean really did in BORK was to translate into images Boulle's fascination with the fall of civilizations, which was also at the core of his other novel, POTA. In both tales this idea takes a metaphorical form, but while in POTA the fall is brought about by decadence, in BORK is the product of war. Let's see how these metaphors work in it: When Nicholson appears "stubborn, single-minded" he's just embodying what the empire was doing then, licking the wounds of the initial defeats while standing its ground face to an enemy considered inferior and condemned to defeat anyway. And Saito knows that too, he knows it well; he never forgets that he--his empire--is the underdog in this struggle and that he'll most likely lose it at the end. That explain his meek attitude from the moment he yields to his enemy. He doesn't even question Nicholson's words when his prisoner tells him of the flaws in the initial project, as both know well what the outcome of this story will be--as Yamamoto knew too, even before Pearl Harbor. And why not? The pride of the RJN, its battleship fleet, was mostly British build or designed and so, too, much of the weaponry that allowed Japan to become a big military power. So, it was clear from the beginning which was the weakest side. The scene that resumes it all well is that of Nicholson proudly marching into the completed bridge--as Allied admirals would do into the deck of the USN Missouri, years later, to accept the Japanese surrenderwhile, pushed into a corner, a defeated Saito toys with the idea of suicide. The idea behind the plot is clear: the British were always the winners here.
But this is a doomed winner too, as decadence and death are waiting ahead on the road. As the result of this rotting process a split appears inside it, represented in two different attitudes. One is that of old norms and traditionsthat of Nicholson. The other is Warden's; that of an accommodating, decaying, colossus who needs of external forces to remain standing. No wonder those external forces are provided by the American outsider; one who, anyway, has to be extorted to get involved--I mean before Harbor. This is of course the lucid, realistic, attitude. (Nothing could be more symbolic of the fate that awaits this aspect of the decaying empire that the wound suffered by Warden, which forces him to yield power to the Yank). And see to what extreme Lean brings this dichotomy to detail, as all Nicholson can see in his situation is a model of the bridge, while Warden and Shears have a map of the whole continent at their disposal. (So, they are the ones capable of seeing the big picture, which is denied to Nicholson). So, the empire is damned too, as the Japanese are damned to defeat. But wait, what doesn't fit in this picture is Shears' death. Shouldn't he live and thrive? But let's remember, both Lean and Boulle saw events in their wide historical context and what they really wanted was to expound on the rise and fall of empires, not on events maybe important at their time but insignificant in the great scheme of things. What they are telling us is that the American empire is also meant to disappear and doing so they foretell Vietnam, Iraq. But there's still in this drama, opera, one character left, one different from the others: Clipton. the man ending the tale, uttering its last words; and doing that with good reason, as he represents the movie's conscience. This explains why he persuades so easily Saito of not shooting the Brit officers. Without knowing this, such scene would be ridiculous. Because he's not a man pleading for his peers there. He's the voice in Saito's head telling him he may have to explain himself to a higher power, one day, and that maybe that will be a British one. (Obviously he's also the voices in Nicholson's head.
And then there's the bridge, which can only represent one thing: victory. Note that at the beginning Saito wanted a Japanese one and that in the ensuing struggle Nicholson turns it into a British one. From that moment on Saito became obsessed with suicide. Later on, to destroy it, they come, the other Brit and the Yankee, finally leaving no winners as Victory goes up in smoke. Warden remains alive, but he'll most likely die that same night, choked by his carriers, in a fitting allegory to the end of British colonialism. (note: the women hate him for having killed the "beautiful" part of the empire).
Superb cinematographic work. But to me the most enduring images were the two similar shots that bracket the entire movie, perhaps because they represent the freedom to be found only in the space high above ground, above Man and his little miserable squabbles: the birds flying up the blue sky, hovering above the jungle. I say a 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'The Bridge on the River Kwai' is an intelligent film about the war although I feel it may not be true to what actually happened. What it does do is make you realise how complex and ghastly war is. We have Colonel Nicholson and his men coming to the camp ruled by Saito played by Sessue Hayakaya. There the soldiers get settled and begin work the following day.They are to build a bridge as inefficiently as possible. Nicholson meets an American soldier called Shears played by William Holden who wants to tell him what it is really like in this camp though Nicholson doesn't really want to hear him. Nicholson refuses to allow his officers to work and Saito insists that they need all manpower- Nicholson refuses and is beaten and put in a box. A point of principal according to Nicholson. Nicholson sits it out and Saito relents. Shears escapes and is persuaded/blackmailed to come back and blow up the bridge which Nicholson and his soldiers have ably built.There is a touch of Dr.Strangelove black comedy underlying this film -- Nicholson becomes totally deluded in the action of building a sturdy and strong bridge and even his medical officer played by James Donald says he may be aiding the enemy brings the underlying insanity to the surface -- it being a morale booster for Nicholson's men. The climax of the film is thrilling and there is that feeling to yell along with William Holden to get Joyce to blow up the bridge before Nicholson sabotages their mission. The performances are very strong with William Holden giving strong cynicism and eventual heroics as Shears. Alec Guinness manages to make Nicholson a true soldier being overwhelmed by his surroundings and treatment at the hands of his captors -- The delusion of a job well done and then realising at the films pivotal moment what he has done is very moving and brilliantly acted -- especially his dazed walk towards the detonator with explosions going off around him -- it is subtle, powerful and totally memorable!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first of the epics from David Lean,this is a classic war movie.However I must point out it is not historically about the building of the Burma railway,but uses that situation to portray the madness of war.The opening scene of down trodden British troops marching into camp whistling Colonel Bogey is absolutely marvellous.The Japanese culture doesn't recognise the Geneva Convention,Alec Guiness plays an English officer who refuses to bend to the rules of the camp commandant,and ends up in the cooler.William Holden is excellent as the cynical American,who escapes only to have to return later on.Jack Hawkins is a dedicated officer who leads a raid to destroy the bridge.The film throws up dilemmas and irony through out,the ending is classic cinema.The film was not an easy shoot according to Kevin Brownlow's biography of David Lean,it was the director against everyone else.Well the in fighting was wort it,a film you can watch again and again.The three leads are excellent,as is Sessue as the Japanese commander.The ending stays with you.Sadly younger audiences will not stick with it,a shame,but rewarding to the discerning film fan.
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